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The Verdict: Success is no illusion for Scott Darling

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Not only is Darling the only former Southern Hockey League player to make the NHL, he became the first Blackhawks netminder to win his NHL debut at the United Center on Oct. 26, 2014, against Ottawa. (Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks)

This feature originally ran on chicagoblackhawks.com on Dec. 13, 2014, during Scott Darling's second stint with the Blackhawks in the regular season.


Enter a room full of goalies and you deserve the same warning label found on many a candy bar:

“MAY CONTAIN SOME NUTS.”

Even masked men within plead guilty.

“Oh yeah, we’re all at least a little crazy,” says Scott Darling. “It comes with the position. If I happen to look calm out there, that’s just an illusion.”

If Darling’s saga weren’t so real, it would be filed away as fiction. He has been everywhere, yet he arrived from nowhere to join the Blackhawks. If he still is the No. 3 goalie in the organization – repeat, if – Darling is certainly trending upward.

“I haven’t fully comprehended what’s happened,” admits Darling, a 25-year-old rookie who has played with more than a dozen teams, including the one he grew up loving. Born in Newport News, Va., Darling spent some time in Lemont, Ill. He admired Eddie Belfour, but usually from a distance because Darling’s father was in the military.

“One of my sisters was born in Germany,” notes Darling, who attended the University of Maine before he and his suitcase pursued a hockey career. Darling is the pro from Mapquest. He was a sixth-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007, but that’s way too normal.

Florida Everblades. Mississippi RiverKings. Las Vegas Wranglers. Capital District Selects. North Iowa Outlaws. Louisiana IceGators. Just to name a few.

“Why didn’t I give up?” Darling says. “Because I love hockey. As a player, as a fan. It’s the same game in all those places, except for the glitz and glamor. Down there, they don’t ask you what you want beside your seat on the plane. There are no planes. Bus rides. Long bus rides. And they don’t hand you an envelope full of meal money before they cook you a steak. But it’s still hockey. I was never miserable playing hockey.”

Darling did stray, however. He liked his beer, early and often. Finally, on July 1, 2011, he decided enough was enough. That’s when he took his last sip of alcohol. He weighed a blubbery 250 pounds, with 20 percent body fat. He was a mess, but his dream was alive.

“Scott is a guy who liked to party, and he straightened himself out,” said Blackhawks Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman. “Good for him. All I know is last year, with Nashville’s farm team in the American Hockey League, he kept beating our Rockford team. He had six shutouts. We had our eye on him.”

Darling made maybe $200 a week in Louisiana, or about a third of the per diem he received for three games on a recent road trip. Clint Reif, Blackhawks Assistant Equipment Manager, made it from the Southern Hockey League to the National Hockey League. But no player ever had, until Darling got the nod in October. He was in Toronto with the IceHogs; Corey Crawford was injured. Crawford is ailing again. Darling is still winning.

At 6-foot-5-and-a-half inches, he plays big and is agile, athletic. He has a quick glove and excellent instincts. Also, he has selective amnesia. In New Jersey the other night, he allowed a rare softie. Then he finished off a 3-2 shootout victory by stopping future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr. Afterward, Darling huddled with the Blackhawks’ outstanding goalie coach, Jimmy Waite.

“Less is more,” Darling says. That’s what they’re working on. He doesn’t have a lot of nervous twitches and extraneous movements. When Darling is set and ready, it’s like trying to get a puck past an octopus. Meanwhile, back at her home in the Chicago suburbs, mother Cindy is bouncing off walls.

“Two-time cancer survivor, a warrior,” Darling said. “Called her first when I finally made it. Then my girlfriend in Boston. My dad. Amazing. Guys here, they’ve been great to me. And let’s face it, I’m playing behind some of the best defensemen in the world, some of the best players in the world. My job is to give us a chance to win – stop the pucks I’m supposed to stop, and maybe a few I’m not supposed to stop.”

Whenever Darling wins, former teams salute. He played one game for Wichita in the Central Hockey League, but he’s now a famous alum. Also, Darling stays in touch with ex-teammates. In Long Island, he caught up with Adam Ross.

“Defenseman, Wheeling Nailers,” says Darling. “We shared a log cabin in the woods of West Virginia. Thought I’d take him to dinner.”

Scott Darling, your table is ready. What a story. Crazy.

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